Culinary Mash-ups: Why They Work

I think we all are familiar with the CronutTM, that genius of pastry creation from Dominique Ansel. And the Doritos LocosTM Taco has been the biggest seller for Taco Bell in recent history, with over $1 Billion in sales. What about the Ramen Burger created by Keizo Shimamoto? It is just one of the latest in a string of fusion foods that breakdown the barriers of ethnicity and polite kitchen food etiquette.

The term mash-up itself, while first heard in 1859, did not become an official word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary until just last year. This alone shows how culturally relevant mash-ups are today. By definition, a mash-up is ‘something created by combining elements from two or more sources’.

The culinary mash-up seems to taunt the food purist who believes that only food in its truly authentic form is acceptable. While authentic food is a very relevant trend, bound to never go away, mash-ups also have their place in food culture. They speak to that percentage of the population that have seen it all, heard it all. They show us that innovation is not dead in the culinary world, and that all it takes is someone with a keen eye for the niche market to make it happen.

Several chain restaurants are capitalizing on the mash-up trend:

–  Take SushirritoTM, a chain in California for example. With 3 locations so far, they have combined the best of the sushi genre with the form the burrito, to create new and interesting flavor combinations.  What results are rather large hand rolls stuffed with all things sushi.

–  Then there is BurrissimoTM, also in California that peddles the Italian Burrito.  They have a similar model to Piada: Italian Street Food but choose to capitalize on the fusion form for their business model.

–  And bakery/restaurant American Cupcake (also in California) has fried chicken battered in red velvet cake batter, which is then deep-fried. They also have candy apple ribs, which are pork ribs bathed in candy apple bbq sauce, and are served with jalapeno cornbread whoopie pies and cocoa slaw. How’s that for a mash-up?

With regards to items that fall into the mash-up category, a few have recently been seen at chain restaurants across the country.

–   Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen debuted Waffle Chicken Tenders in August.

–  Carl’s Jr. has the Strawberry Pop-tart Ice Cream Sandwich.

–  Applebee’s has a hamburger quesadilla, with cheese and bacon that seems to artfully straddle the ground between Mexican and American cuisines.

–  Dunkin’ Donuts is getting into the game too with this year’s release of the Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, which is an exercise in pure indulgence.

Mash-ups are not unique to culinary in the sense that a dish is a fusion of two different cuisines. A mash-up can work if a partnership forms between two equally passionate entities. Take for example the collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery and Ippudo NY: each prides itself on creating the highest quality product, whether it is a beer or a delicious bowl of ramen.  The brainchild of that collaboration is Brooklyn Kaedama Ale.  Kaedama literally means “extra noodles” and is a practice that started in the Hakata district of Fukuoka City. In this tradition, the ramen is served in smaller portions with the firm belief that the noodles must maintain their bite. The diner can order more ramen “Kaedama”, which is a fancy term for MORE RAMEN.

These types of mash-ups are being seen all over the country, including an interesting one right here in Austin that serves coffee and beer: Wright Bros. Brew & Brew, which offers artisan roasted coffees, 39 different beers, and all the foods to complement them.  These fusion type locations are the way that the world is headed, so whether you like them or not, you had better get used to them!

What is your favorite culinary mashup?

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